Unions, Advocates Launch Warehouse Safety Campaign Targeting Amazon’s Injury Crisis
New report finds 1 in 12 full-time workers experience injury at Amazon’s NY warehouses
New Yorkers for a Fair Economy coalition seeks to build on 2022’s Warehouse Worker Protection Act with bill to design warehouses for safety over profit
NEW YORK, NY (May 4, 2023) – Today, unions, advocates, and community organizations from the New Yorkers for a Fair Economy coalition launched a campaign for the Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act (WWIRA), legislation that will hold employers accountable for workplace safety and design warehouses to protect workers first.
In the absence of federal standards requiring worksites to be engineered for worker safety, New York warehouse workers at companies like Amazon have experienced high rates of preventable injuries. Warehouse workers are three times more likely to be injured than the average New York worker, and serious injury rates at Amazon facilities are 40% higher than at non-Amazon facilities statewide. Lifting and twisting with heavy boxes can cause muscle strains, sprains, and tendonitis. These injuries are often serious, causing workers to miss time or need a job transfer. They can also have lifelong impacts on worker health, limiting not only workers’ ability to perform their work, but also time with their families.
Last year, the coalition won the Warehouse Worker Protection Act (WWPA), bringing transparency to exploitative productivity quotas in the warehouse industry and ensuring they do not conflict with protected breaks. The law takes effect on June 19, 2023.
The Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act (S5081/A03309)—sponsored by State Senator Jessica Ramos (D, SD-13) and Assemblymember Latoya Joyner (D, AD-77), chairs of each chamber’s labor committee as well as the lead sponsors for the WWPA—is the natural next step to protect thousands of workers in one of New York’s fastest growing industries. The elected officials drafted the bill with the New Yorkers for a Fair Economy coalition.
Today’s campaign launch comes on the heels of a new report from the National Employment Law Project on injury rates across New York warehouses. “Fighting for Safe Work: Injury Data Show Urgent Need for Intervention in NY State’s Warehouses” provides an in-depth cross-industry data analysis for workers in the state, finding Walmart, UPS, and Amazon warehouses are far more susceptible to injury than any other industry. Additionally, Amazon warehouse workers—who are disproportionately Black and Latinx—are injured at a rate of one injury for every 12 full-time employees and are three times more likely to be injured than the average New York worker. In 95% of cases, injured Amazon workers could not continue performing their normal job duties and either had to change them or take time off to recover.
WWIRA seeks to prevent worksite injuries and hold warehouse companies responsible for worker health and safety by establishing an industry-wide NYS Warehouse Ergonomics Program. The bill would require employers to implement injury reduction plans to identify and minimize the most common hazards and undergo annual evaluations by certified ergonomists. Through better job design, safety standards, comprehensive worker training, improved on-site medical care, and strong enforcement, WWIRA will keep workers safe on the job and make warehouse work sustainable.
Download photos (credit: Mettie Ostrowski) and watch video of today’s press conference.
“New York State’s economy is seeing a drastic boom in warehouse-based employment, and with it, a sharp spike in serious injuries that accompany that form of work. We made clear with the Warehouse Worker Protection Act that New York State will not allow employers to treat workers as profit-making machines at the expense of their health and safety. Now, I am proud to be continuing that fight with the Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act so we can finally rein in the business models that view workers as overhead, instead of full human beings,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos, chair of the Senate Labor Committee.
“Protecting workers from the stress and physical injuries they face as high-pressure quota systems become more commonplace in warehouses and distribution centers throughout New York, the Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act is a crucial workplace safety measure that removes the incentives for e-commerce giants like Amazon to engage in unsafe practices,” Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner (D-Bronx, 77th AD), chair of the Assembly Labor Committee, said. “This legislation enhances workplace safety protections for thousands of working New Yorkers and I am proud to partner with advocates in fighting for its enactment.”
“Our coalition is strengthening a national movement, building worker power against corporate greed,” said Lucas Shapiro, Interim Executive Director of ALIGN, which leads the New Yorkers for a Fair Economy coalition. “Last year, we challenged abusive productivity quotas at companies like Amazon by passing the Warehouse Worker Protection Act. Now, it’s time for New York to lead the way in warehouse safety, as the growing and dangerous industry shirks people for profit. ALIGN is proud to partner with Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Joyner on this landmark legislation to hold warehouse companies accountable, because all workers deserve safe working conditions.”
“All workers deserve workplaces that are designed with their safety in mind. As the e-commerce industry booms in our state at the same time injury rates spike among warehouse workers, it’s clear that employers will not prioritize workers’ health and safety voluntarily. The Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act, championed by Jessica Ramos and LaToya Joyner, will set an important standard for warehouse worker safety. We once again join our allies in the New Yorkers for a Fair Economy coalition in fighting for a safe and sustainable e-commerce industry,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
“We, the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) support the injury reduction act because our members experience repetitive strains to our bodies in the warehouse. We are more than twice as likely to be seriously injured than other comparable warehouse workers. We are humans, not ‘industrial athletes’ as Jeff Bezos says,” said Claudia Ashterman, ALU organizer and Amazon JFK8 warehouse worker.
“As warehouse workers, we need a safe work environment so we can be the healthiest, best versions of ourselves. All logistics workers should be safe on the job, but Amazon is transforming our industry for the worse by putting packages ahead of worker safety. This legislation will help hold low-road companies like Amazon accountable for their dangerous warehouse conditions. The Teamsters are committed to supporting Amazon workers so they can come together, build power, and get what they deserve,” said Thomas Crawford, a Teamsters Local 804 shop steward and part-time preload warehouse worker at UPS in Brooklyn.
“When we surveyed Amazon workers on Staten Island in 2019, we found that 80% of workers were pressured to work harder or faster at their facility and two out of every three workers expressed experiencing physical pain while performing work duties. This is unacceptable, and the Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act will do exactly as the name suggests: reduce injuries for warehouse workers in New York State,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH).
“The Warehouse Worker Injury Reduction Act will address dangerous flaws at warehouses that put tens of thousands of New Yorkers at risk of serious and disabling injuries. Requiring employers to modernize warehouse work and make straightforward, common sense fixes—such as installing adjustable height workstations, using electric pallet jacks, and allowing workers to rotate job tasks—is critical to resolving the injury crisis facing warehouse workers in the state,” said Irene Tung, Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst, National Employment Law Project.
About New Yorkers for a Fair Economy
New Yorkers for a Fair Economy (NYFE) is a coalition of labor unions, small businesses, and immigrant and community organizations uniting to safeguard our state from the abusive practices of big corporations and achieve an economy that works for all New Yorkers. NYFE is led by ALIGN (Alliance for a Greater New York) and includes labor unions Teamsters Joint Council 16 and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; community groups like New York Communities for Change and New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health; and research and advocacy organizations like National Employment Law Project and Strategic Organizing Center, among others.